Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
I never realized that when it comes to classified information it’s not just “top secret” “secret” and “confidential” – based on a recent assessment from the Pentagon press pool there’s also “classified-classified” and “B.S. classified.”
The topic came up in a recent Pentagon press briefing with Bloomberg reporter Tony Capaccio questioning Pentagon spokesman George Little regarding an anti-leak memorandum released by the Pentagon last week. Cappacio noted that the idea of classification had become “a joke” and asked what defense officials were going to do to distinguish “classified-classified versus B.S. classified” – as he put it.
It’s the same debate on overclassification, different scenario. With congress hotly debating the repercussions for leaks in the wake of some widespread and high-profile breaches – and putting the press on the hot seat for publishing classified information – those on the other side of the argument continue to cry “overclassification” not “leak.”
Reporters aren’t the first to charge the government with overclassification. The FAS Project on Government Secrecy has been accusing the government of overclassifying information for years. Members of congress and the Government Accountability Office have also argued that overclassification is a drain on the system, reduces transparency and costs millions of taxpayer dollars each year.
It’s a tough argument in the era of Wikileaks. Some are urging that classification reform would actually reduce the instance of breaches, with less information to steal, clearer protocols, and more transparency. Others argue that the risks demand more caution before releasing even potentially sensitive materials.
Congress has shifted focus from overclassification to leaks, with 12 provisions in the 2013 Intelligence Authorization bill related to unauthorized disclosures of classified information. The provisions are largely procedural changes and clarifications on what cleared personnel can and can’t do. None get at what is considered the heart of the issue for many – offering clearer protocols for the declassification of information and reducing the amount of classified information – “B.S.” or otherwise.
Congress is adding muscle to its requests for harsh penalties against those accused of leaking classified information.
Last week Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) introduced the Deterring Public Disclosure of Covert Actions Act of 2012, which will revoke the security clearances of individuals who disclose covert actions. Burr emphasized that no such bill should need to be issued, but recent concerns about a dramatic rise in sensitive information being disclosed make such legislation necessary.
“There has been no shortage of news reports lately regarding covert and classified actions,” Senator Burr said. “Such reckless disclosure of top-secret information compromises our national security, jeopardizes the work of our intelligence officers and overseas partners, and risks innocent lives.”
The law would apply to officers, contractors and government employees and Burr emphasized in his statement that no one would lose their clearance without due process, and a determination that classified information had actually been leaked.
The bill comes in follow-up to an announcement by the Director of National Intelligence that new polygraph procedures would ask specifically about whether an individual has ever disclosed protected information. Polygraph procedures are now in the spotlight, following a McClatchy News Service report on abuses in the polygraph screening process. Unless carefully implemented, new polygraph screening methods along with harsher and more immediate penalties for those found revealing secrets could make for simpler responses to that question “how was your day?” – even if it’s your spouse asking.
ClearanceJobs founder and managing director Evan Lesser was recently interviewed by Federal Times about security clearance processing and progress. While dramatic improvements in processing times have been made in recent years and the security clearance program has been taken off the Government Accountability Office hot seat, there’s still a lot to be done.
A special thanks to our security clearance investigators who visit the site for your wealth of experience and feedback. There’s nothing quite like a ‘boots on the ground’ perspective on reform efforts and progress!
In January 2012 a bill was introduced in the Maryland State Senate that proposed a State income tax credit for costs incurred to obtain federal security clearances. The first reading of the bill (SB296) proposed a requirement for “the Governor of Maryland to make a $6,000,000 appropriation in FY2014 and FY21015 for the tax credit, applying the Act to all taxable years beginning after December 31, 2011.” The bill was unclear as to what costs would qualify for the tax credit and who could claim it. Basically it just appropriated money for the tax credit.
News articles originally suggested that the “proposal would offer tax credits worth up to $3,000 or half the cost of the security clearance, whichever is less, to the individual or company paying for it.” But individuals and companies rarely pay for federal security clearances. Someone must have educated the sponsors of the bill on this fact, resulting in significant changes to the bill before it was signed into law on May 22, 2012. Even the title of the bill changed from “Income Tax Credit – Security Clearance Expense” to “Income Tax Credit – Security Clearances – Employer Costs.”
The new law allows employers to claim a Maryland tax credit of up to $100,000 per year for:
(I) Security clearance administrative expenses incurred with regard to an employee in the state including, but not limited to:
Employers can also claim an annual tax credit of 50% of the costs or $100,000 (whichever is less) for the construction or renovation of a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) located in the state. If multiple SCIFs are involved, the maximum tax credit is limited $250,000 per year.
The credits will be available for tax years beginning after December 2012, but before January 2017. Two million dollars in tax credits will be available each year. If applications for tax credits exceed $2,000,000 per year, the credits will be allocated to employers on a pro-rata basis.
The law provides the basic procedures for applying for the tax credit, but leaves it to the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development to craft a regulation that defines the exact nature of administrative expenses that will qualify for the tax credit.
The law will help smaller Maryland companies improve their clearance processing capabilities. It is particularly timely, since many small cleared defense contractors have not yet purchased electronic fingerprint capture equipment needed by December 2013 to implement the Secure Web Fingerprint Transmission (SWFT) system as required by the Department of Defense for security clearance processing.
Michelle Bachmann is raising eyebrows with a rather odd request for dual citizenship with Switzerland. Under Swiss law, Bachmann was automatically eligible for citizenship upon marrying her husband (the son of Swiss citizens) in 1978. According to news reports, it was just several months ago that Bachmann decided to register her citizenship with Swiss authorities.
Bachmann has since issued a statement saying she sent a letter to Swiss authorities requesting the withdrawal of her Swiss citizenship.
It’s a sticky situation for a former presidential candidate and member of congress, especially one with a high-profile appointment on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which gives Bachmann oversight over intelligence agencies including the CIA and NSA.
Dual citizenship alone isn’t grounds for security-clearance denial, but possessing a foreign passport, having overseas financial dealings, or obtaining citizenship benefits from a foreign country are all potentially disqualifying conditions. Certainly if Bachmann had obtained Swiss citizenship and then taken advantage of any of its benefits that would have been seen as a possible reason for a security clearance suspension. (Although I’m sure we could make a good argument that a member of congress could mitigate the benefits with their allegiance to the United States…maybe). For the average security-cleared professional, it would definitely be a dumb and potentially job jeopardizing move to request foreign citizenship while possessing a security clearance.
I would guess Bachmann was simply the victim of bad advice or poor planning – perhaps her children expressed a desire to explore their Swiss roots through citizenship, which prompted the family to reach out to the Swiss consulate. At least that’s what we can hope. For now, we can rest assured that Swiss spies are not infiltrating the House Intelligence Committee.
Note: Members of Congress do not undergo a security-clearance investigation the same way security-cleared workers do. Their access to sensitive information is based on their election to public office, not an SF-86. While some have argued that members of congress should be required to undergo a formal investigation, no movement has happened on that proposal. House members are required to take an oath of secrecy, and Intelligence Committee members have a separate secrecy oath, as well. It’s unclear if dual citizenship would be an issue considered by the House and Senate Security Offices, the same way it would in a personnel background investigation. Read this article on congressional security clearances for more information.
Due to backlog in the screening process, the TSA is allowing some personnel to be hired prior to the standard background check and security assessment.
WSB-TV in Atlanta received a copy of an internal memo from airline officials, which outlined the Transportation Security Administration directive to employers and contractors at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
TSA sources told WSB-TV that the backlog was caused by a computer glitch which kept clearance information from being sent to the TSA for processing.
“To allow for a continuity of operations, TSA has provided airports and airlines with interim regulatory relief,” TSA spokesman Jon Allen said in a statement. “At no time was security at risk, and all new employees will still undergo identity verification and be subject to watch list matching.”
Lawmakers are allegedly outraged, with several expressing concern that individuals could be hired and given access to airport facilities without having an appropriate background check.
While almost all TSA positions list security clearance eligibility as a requirement, only supervisors and headquarters managers are processed for higher-level secret security clearances. In 2010, the TSA announced it would be requiring security clearances for all supervisors, increasing the number of cleared TSA personnel from roughly 774 to over 10,000.
Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
The news has been flooded with coverage of the secret service agents and military personnel who allegedly engaged prostitutes and indulged in drunken debauchery as a part of an advance team sent to prepare for President Obama’s trip to Colombia for the Summit of the Americas.
Secret service agents are required to obtain top secret security clearances as a part of their work. As a law enforcement body with a vital connection to national security and the safety of the president, they’re also held to personal conduct standards.
Prostitution is legal in Colombia, but violated the standards of the secret service as well as opening up the agents for possible blackmail. While this incident is spread all over the news, the question security clearance investigators and supervisors will be asking is whether or not this has happened before. (And the agents might as well start preparing for their polygraph examinations now…)
Foreign intelligence agents use every tool in their arsenal – including sex – as a means to coerce, and possibly blackmail targets for information and access. One need look no further than the Russian spy ring’s ‘red hot’ Anna Chapman as a demonstration of how sex, or sex appeal, is used to tease out information. Engaging in prostitution – even in countries where it is legal – also raises “lack of discretion” and “poor judgment” concerns.
It’s likely that if the charges against the agents are verified they will lose their jobs, most definitely. Whether or not they would be able to maintain a security clearance would likely depend on how egregious the behavior was and whether or not it was an isolated incident or a pattern of untrustworthy and potentially harmful behavior. News reports are saying that the accused agents have already had their clearances revoked pending the investigation. This should come as no surprise, and is a standard response in an investigation where issues of blackmail and access to sensitive information are concerned.
For the average security cleared professional, without such close access to the White House and with little risk to blackmail, it’s unlikely that visiting a prostitute in a country where it was legal would result in clearance issues. But you’d have to be so sure you wouldn’t succumb to blackmail or foreign influence and that you’d be okay with the story being told across the evening news.
The General Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report on the cost of “Background Investigations” (GAO-12-197) conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The first sentence of the report declared:
OPM’s reported costs to conduct background investigations increased by almost 79 percent, from about $602 million in fiscal year 2005 to almost $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2011 (in fiscal year 2011 dollars).
The news media chose to publish articles that focused on the overall increase in the amount spent on background investigations, rather than the actual increase in the price of various investigative products offered by OPM. It’s not until you get down to page 47 of the GAO report that you see the weighted average price increase for investigative products only went up 5.1% per year from 2005 to 2012. 2005 and 2006 were transition years for OPM. In 2005 OPM accepted the transfer of about 1,700 Defense Security Service personnel and the responsibility for all Department of Defense (DOD) background investigations. During 2004 OPM had conducted a portion of DOD’s background investigations and knew that their existing price structure wouldn’t cover the actual cost of these investigations, so they entering into a special agreement with DOD whereby OPM charged DOD an extra 25% over their standard prices. The DOD investigations increased OPM’s caseload by 200%. OPM was able to readjust their prices down a little in 2006. If you back out the two transition years of 2005 and 2006, OPM increased their average weighted price of investigations about 4% per year during the past five years. This was a pretty remarkable feat considering that they significantly reduced turnaround time on their investigations during the same period.
It’s a fallacy to ascribe to OPM the increase in the total cost of all investigations, because OPM has no control over the number or types of investigations they are requested to conduct. GAO also claimed that the total cost of OPM investigations continued to gradually increase from 2005 to 2011, even though the number of investigations conducted by OPM declined about 30% from 2008 to 2011. But GAO failed to report the types of investigations that OPM had conducted. When a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) at $4,005 costs about 14 times more than a National Agency Check with Law and Credit (NACLC) at $228, an increase in the number of expensive investigations can more than offset a large decease in the total number of cheaper investigations.
GAO doesn’t always get it right, and in my opinion this is one of those times that they got it wrong. There may very well be cost accounting and lack of transparency problems at OPM, but GAO failed to focus on these issues.
Attending FOSE, an annual gathering of government IT professionals at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center? The ClearanceJobs team will be there and we look forward to meeting you – be sure to stop by our booth to say hello, and keep on the look-out for the ClearanceJobs Uncle Sam. He wants YOU to find your next job on the Cleared Network. And as if just meeting Uncle Sam wasn’t great enough, you can get your picture taken with him (can you say, Facebook profile photo?) to be entered in for the chance to win a Kindle Fire.
Don’t have a pass yet? Don’t fret. Industry and non-government can get a free expo pass – just use the promo code EXPO1 or register at http://bit.ly/FOSEEXPO1. You can also get $200 off the full FOSE conference rate using GOVEB.
Look forward to seeing you at FOSE next week! Be sure to brush up on your networking skills – tradeshows are a great place to make connections that could lead to your next career opportunity.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was charged with 17 counts of murder last week, after allegedly shooting Afghan civilians in their sleep in a massacre that has strained already troubled U.S. –Afghan relations.
As analysts look to the cause and unpack the details one area that hasn’t escaped their scrutiny is the secret security clearance Bales held. It’s not uncommon for service members to receive security clearances, particularly prior to a deployment. The majority of both officers and non-commissioned officers and some lower-ranking enlisted service members will obtain security clearances as a part of their need to access sensitive information in the field.
So while it’s not odd for Bales to have possessed a security clearance some are questioning how he obtained one. In 2003 he was order to pay $1.3 million in damages to a couple he stole approximately $600,000 from while working as their stockbroker. After joining the Army, Bales’ financial troubles continued and in 2009 he defaulted on a mortgage.
Financial woes alone aren’t necessarily a cause for a clearance denial but the issue of trustworthiness implied by Bales’ financial dealings, coupled with continued financial uncertainty, would have likely set off red flags in regards to both trustworthiness, stability, and susceptibility to coercion. It’s certainly possible these issues were mitigated through the clearance process. Or Bales could have lied in his application, although it seems unlikely the problems wouldn’t have come up in an investigation.
The other issue at hand is Bales mental stability. Much like the recent case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who released thousands of classified cables to Wikileaks, Bales is calling into question whether or not we’re paying adequate attention to the mental stability of our deployed troops. Multiple combat tours, financial strain at home and other factors can combine to produce a strain some may find difficult to handle.
There are really two issues at hand here – one, the difficulty in assessing a person’s motivations and character in a cursory investigation and second, the “clearance inflation” that has occurred due to the rapid advancement of high-tech, high level signals intelligence and other technology on the battlefield, which requires more deployed troops to obtain clearances in the first place. As the military looks to draw down and lower troop numbers effectively, they may look at how a clearable force ties into that matrix – perhaps issuing security clearances to all troops as a part of the enlistment process, and ensuring service members are clearable before they enter the ranks.